Thursday, January 22, 2009

Generation Kill

by David Simon, Ed Burns, and Evan Wright

I started watching this mini-series with the following pre-conceived notions: i) that Simon and Burns have basically ruined all other television for me - their shows are just about the only things I enjoy now; ii) that the Iraq war was an absolute disaster of military planning and political will from the very beginning, with no real long-range strategy, exit plan, or purpose beyond showing how tough George W. Bush is; and iii) that the US military is one messed up group of organizations, and not really something to be proud of.

This series has completely changed my thinking about point three, while cementing points one and two in my mind forever. When the series starts, I found it very easy to identify with Lee Tergesen's character of Evan Wright, the reporter upon whose book the series is based. As the series progressed, I found that I really developed a respect, admiration, and awe of the different Marines portrayed. Sure some of them are severely damaged Whiskey Tango freaks, but for the most part, they are shown as highly intelligent, brave and determined individuals. The majority of the officers are a different matter however.

The series is about the actions of the Marine 1st Recon unit in the earliest days of the invasion of Iraq. It mostly centres on the Marines in Wright's Humvee, but it also encompasses their entire group (battalion?). We get to ride alongside these highly trained individuals as they move from pointless mission to being stuck behind trucks time and again.

At first, we see their frustration at not being at the tip of the spear to 'kill Hajiis', but as the show progresses, we see even more their frustration at how the war is being mis-managed. The Marines on view here are highly critical of their command, their support troops, and the entire effort. The beauty of this show is that it, while it deals with so much negativity, it also manages to elevate the individual soldiers, and to show them as remarkable people. I found that I started to really like them, and when I finished my week of watching these seven episodes, I found I missed them.

As with The Wire, the Simon/Burns masterpiece, the biggest draw for me was the dialogue. As expected, the Marines are a foul-mouthed, shit-talking group. At the same time, they are poets of a new breed - their rants and invectives flow with a terrible beauty and brutal honesty. Much of the dialogue, and the show itself, is darkly humorous and occassionally so funny that I found myself laughing out loud.

All in all, I think I preferred The Wire in terms of depth and breadth, but this was a highly entertaining series, which caused me to re-think some of my positions on the American military.

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